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November 17, 2004

Provisional Ballots Counted - Mostly

The Rocky is reporting that about 80% of provisional ballots cast in Denver will be counted, and that this "falls in line with other metro counties, which had provisional-ballot acceptance rates ranging from 76 percent to 85 percent, county clerks reported."

Meanwhile, the Post manages to turn this into reason to take to the barricades:

About 12,300 Coloradans voted in this month's election only to have their emergency ballots tossed aside.

Colorado's rejection rate for controversial "provisional" ballots was twice as high this year than in 2002.

"Voters are leaving polls with stickers saying 'I Voted,' but (a fourth) of those provisionals are being tossed away," said Mary Wickersham, who worked for the election monitoring group Fair Vote Colorado. "This difference between people who vote and those whose votes actually count runs contrary to the way Americans think their elections should work."

"Tossed aside." Yes, casually thrown away. Trashcan basketball, with county clerks pretending to be 'Melo, no doubt. If they even bothered to take them out of the envelopes. If not, they probably used them to play frisbee with their dogs.

De rigeur, the Post ignores Fair Vote Colorado's genealogy.

Try to get this straight, Ms. Wiskersham: just because a ballot is cast, doesn't mean it ought to be counted. Thank goodness this election wasn't close enough for these things to matter to people who actually have money to hire lawyers. Otherwise there'd be 24/7 street theater trying to count votes by people whose only residence here in Colorado is the hotel room the party bought for them.

When provisional ballots were used in 2002, about 12% were rejected. This year, about 24% were rejected. Part of this is because the new rules were implemented to prevent people from voting provisionally in Durango when they live in Ft. Morgan. But part of it is because election judges took the easy way out when they were stumped, handing out provisional ballots as they answer to any question.

I nearly got into a argument with the "experienced" election judge I was working with. When a couple came in, and it was apparent that they had moved into the precinct, but were still registered elsewhere in Denver, she insisted they get provos. Afterwards, I wasn't sure at all that his ballot was going to count, and I spent three phone calls to the clerk's office and about half an hour making sure that it would.

The precise reasons for each rejection have not been tallied by all election clerks, but the spike in discarded ballots raises questions about whether new laws meant to keep voters from being turned away are giving some Coloradans false confidence that their voices really are being heard, advocates said.

No, what's giving them false confidence isn't the spike in rejections, it's the advertisement beforehand. Election judges aren't supposed to be making decisions about what will count and what won't. So people are handed a ballot. That couple I mentioned before? The woman was perfectly willing to fill out a provo, even though she said to me, "oh, those are the ballots that they don't count, right?" I had to assure her that since she was registered, and I had verified her registration, that her ballot would count.

Election officials said there were several reasons for the large number of rejections, but ballots frequently were discarded because the voter was not registered in the county where he or she appeared to vote.

On Election Day, Ramon Rodriguez assumed his provisional ballot cast in Boulder would be routed to the right precinct in Denver.

Rodriguez, 19, had never voted before and told election judges he was in the wrong precinct, and even in the wrong county. Upon their instruction, he cast a provisional ballot - a vote he discovered later was not counted at all. Not even for president.

"I don't know how I can trust these people," he said after voting. "It's too late now."

Rodriguez was among 100 provisional voters in Boulder County and perhaps thousands across the state whose ballots didn't count because they voted in the wrong county. Two years ago, those votes would have counted. But another 296 provisional ballots cast in Boulder belonged to people not registered at all in Colorado. The county had almost 3,000 provisional ballots that did count.

If Mr. Rodriguez is quialified to vote, he could have read a newspaper sometime in the eight weeks leading up to the election and would have been well-informed that he needed to vote in the county he was registered in.

And throwing in people who weren't even registered to vote as victims borders on the insane. One gentleman and his wife walked in to vote. She was registered, even though she hadn't voted in a while, but he wasn't. Under the rules, if he had tried to register, and could tell me when and with what voter drive, he'd get a provo, and I'd pass that information along. I gave him three chances to tell me he'd tried to register, but he wouldn't lie, and I had to inform him that, while I'd give him a ballot, it probably wouldn't count since he wasn't a registered voter. Viewed in one light, it's a heartwarming tale of a gentleman who wouldn't lie just to be able to vote. But there's absolutely no reason to be handing out ballots to people who aren't registered.

Eight counties did not count half of their provisionals. Washington County rejected a state high of 72 percent of its provisional votes. Weld County did not count almost 57 percent. And 24 counties rejected at least a third of the votes cast provisionally.

Someone needs to get Susan Greene a textbook with a bookmark on the section describing "statistically significant." Washington County had 18 provisional ballots, and rejected 13 of them. Of the 24 counties with rejection rates of 1/3 or more, here are the total number of provisional ballots cast in 8 of them: 18, 26, 30, 25, 11, 21, 16, and 3. San Juan makes the cut because one of their three provisionals didn't make it.

"What the hell," said Jay Magness, who tried to vote at one downtown Denver precinct even though he's registered in New York City.

His vote likely didn't count.

It's nice to see citizens taking their civic responsibilities so seriously. I wonder if they bothered to ask if he had voted absentee in his home state.

New rules this year required provisional voters to fill out a lengthy - and, to some, confusing - affidavit, which, when not completed correctly, caused provisional votes not to count.

The affadavit was basically a name, address, birthdate form. If that's lengthy, God only knows how these people manage to fill out their taxes. Any additional information they could provide that would help identify them was encouraged but not required.

The Post saved the truly disturbing part for last:

Despite those rules, counties applied their own standards in some cases. Conejos County, for example, counted all the votes cast in wrong precincts, while other counties did not.

And as ballots were being accepted or rejected, it was difficult for reporters and other monitors to keep track of whether election clerks applied rules fairly or consistently. Some clerks refused to allow observers to hear the judges making final decisions on whether to accept ballots, and state law failed to require clerks to allow unobstructed observation.

This is a real problem. If county clerks can't be relied on to enforce the law properly, they need to be removed, possibly in irons. It's bad enough that this whole process has undermined public confidence in the elections process, and allowed attorneys to practice in front of mirrors for the next close election. If county clerks are making it up as they go along, they're going to deserve whatever grief they get. Even if we don't.

Did I say last? No, the last word goes to Pete Maysmith, whose role in exacerbating the controversy also goes unmentioned:

Said Pete Maysmith, executive director of Colorado Common Cause, "The process is crying out for reform."

Yes, Pete. But probably not the kind of reform you would endorse.

Posted by joshuasharf at November 17, 2004 11:17 PM | TrackBack

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